Many of today's social sector organizations are searching for ways to be more nimble, adaptive, and responsive, and they are looking to "learning" as a means for responding to myriad competing demands and shifting priorities and challenges. In particular, a range of publications and conferences have shown an interest in learning as a tool for social change. For example, in 2005, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) reminded us that "Learning is about continual reflection—asking and answering key questions you need to know to make smarter decisions. It's about engaging staff, the board, and grantees in reflective discussion of what works (and what doesn't) to advance your organization's mission and goals" (p. 2).
Others of us, including the Center for Evaluation Innovation, Innovation Network, Grantmakers in Health, Grantmakers in Education, Grantcraft, Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University, Council on Foundations, Center for Effective Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly, and a variety of foundations, corporate philanthropic organizations, and consultants, have made learning a cornerstone of our work. Many such organizations have consistently communicated the importance of being a learning organization, supporting strategic learning through evaluation and other forms of data collection, and forging intentional connections between strategy, evaluation, and learning.
While it is clear that the topic of learning remains of great importance to the social sector, many organizations, including those in the public and private sectors, seem to be stuck on operationalizing what it means to engage in and support intentional learning in their organizations. We hope this guide will help a wide array of professionals better understand how and when to use group learning activities to intentionally support and facilitate continuous learning through reflection and dialogue.